“Selective” Politics

The governor of a state I know very well just delivered his state of the state address, which seemed to consist largely of state boosterism and a blistering attack on the federal government.  Needless to say, both were well received, given that the state is one of the “reddest” in the nation.  Of course, much of what he said distorted economic statistics and political reality, not to mention the Constitution, which is possibly the most misinterpreted United States government document.  This governor, alas, is not unique.  He may be a bit more extreme in his distortions than others, but all politicians do it, whether they are on the right or the left.  They select and distort, and seldom are they called on it directly by the media.

Oh, there are political cartoons… sometimes.  There are thoughtful articles… that few read.  And any politician who’s truly direct and honest… most don’t stay politicians long.  I can still remember, and this dates me, the violent abuse that President Carter took [and I didn’t vote for him] when he made a direct and simple statement:  “Life isn’t fair.”

So why do governors and other politicians continue such misrepresentation?

Because they judge that it’s what the majority of the voters who elected them want to hear.  No one wants to hear that their state has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country, more than three years after the housing bubble burst.  No one wants to hear that their state ranks fiftieth out of fifty states in per pupil spending on elementary and secondary education, and that it spends roughly half as much as the state that ranks forty-ninth… or that the socio-economic make-up of the school age population disguises how poor that education is, so much so that, on average, only about half the students who do attend college can manage to graduate in six years or less, and that close to half require remedial work in some field or another before they can even begin true college work.  Nor do these so highly principled opponents of the federal government ever mention that for every dollar the state spends on Medicaid, which they oppose, the federal government kicks in three dollars… or that while they’re bashing the feds, they’re also lobbying ferociously to keep open federal facilities in the state, and spending taxpayer dollars in conducting such lobbying.  And of course, no governor dares to tell his legislature to stop wasting time on passing resolutions condemning the federal government for programs and laws that the Supreme Court has found constitutional time after time.

Why… if he did that, he might not get re-elected.  Or he might actually have to address the real problems.

So why do the majority of Americans put up with this sort of idiocy from their state and local elected officials?  Is it because they feel they’ve lost control of their lives?  Yet, is electing and re-electing self-serving demagogues the way to regain that control?  From what I can tell, the more honest, the more pragmatic, the more realistic a candidate is in assessing and presenting the situation facing the country and government, the less chance he or she has of being elected, regardless of party.  And yet… voters are polarizing along party lines, even as both parties select candidates who are the least likely to come up with workable solutions.

And historians thought the “know-nothings” and “yellow dog Democrats” of the nineteenth century were bad?


5 thoughts on ““Selective” Politics”

  1. G.Thomas says:

    Out of curiosity I read the State of the State address mentioned, and I have to ask, are you sure that “Deseret” is a product of your imagination annd not a prognostication?

  2. Joe says:

    Perhaps cognitive dissonance? People were taught to behave in a way which made possible the systems set up by the richer people (peasantry, then blue collar worker, then white collar worker), and they accepted the bargain because there was a benefit for them too. But the risk-reward equation has become skewed: only graduates have seen salary increases over the last 30 years, and that comes at the price of an ever increasing debt burden. People cling to the only interpretation that lets them maintain a belief that they will be alright in the end. But they won’t. Technology and globalisation are such non-linear force multipliers that in a market not designed to prevent this effect, and in a market with limits, small differences result in winner take all economics, resulting in increasing inequality and fewer jobs, mostly highly skilled and quite temporary.

  3. Wine Guy says:

    There are nearly two generations of people who now have learned that it is acceptable to rely upon the government for their income without supplying anything back to the system. Because they are allowed to maintain their franchise – and indeed expand it, usually to the cheering of those who would take advantage of that self-interest – those who actually provide services and/or money have to spend more and more time treading water to keep their head above the surface and can spend less and less time trying to create or modify the system in which they (-we!-) are caught.

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